Armenians Haven’t Had a Competent Leader Since Catholicos Khrimian Hyrig

Leavening_the_Levant_(1916)_ feature
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


Khrimian Hyrig is a highly revered clergyman. But, he is also a great leader who has given wonderful political advice to the Armenian nation.

His Holiness was born in Van, Western Armenia, in 1820 and became the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1869. Due to his nationalistic views, he was forced to resign by the Ottoman government in 1873. He was then installed as Catholicos of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin in 1893 and died in 1907.

Khrimian Hyrig is well-known for his participation in the Berlin Congress in 1878, hoping to receive from the great powers a decision to force the Ottoman Empire to establish substantial reforms in the Armenian provinces. He did not accomplish his objective because Armenians were powerless. He likened the failed Armenian efforts in the Berlin Congress to his attempt to eat from a bowl with a “paper ladle,” while other nations had an “iron ladle.”

The highly nationalistic Khrimian Hyrig exhorted his fellow Armenians to arm themselves: “People of Armenia, of course you understand well what the gun could have done and can do. And so, dear and blessed Armenians, when you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and friends, take weapons, take weapons and again weapons. People, above all, place the hope of your liberation on yourself. Use your brain and your fist! Man must work for himself in order to be saved.”

Khrimian Hyrig’s wise words are just as valid today, particularly after the latest disastrous defeat Armenians suffered at the hands of better armed Azerbaijan and Turkey.
A recently surfaced letter by Khrimian Hyrig, written over a century ago, is as applicable today as it was back then. It is headlined: “If You Have an Independent State in the Future, Do Everything You Can to Never, Ever Lose Your Independence.”

Khrimian Hayrig

Khrimian Hayrig

Here is Khrimian Hyrig’s meaningful counsel which I have translated into English:

In the future, I hope you already have an independent state and you have realized our centuries-old dream. If so, you are now living in someone’s dream come true; in the dream of millions. I hope you realize the power of luck that has befallen you.

I would like to know what that dream is like in reality, but since I cannot see it with my own eyes, let me express my remarks with this letter. If you read these lines, I will become a part of your present and my future.

When I went to the Berlin Congress to raise the rights of our people around the world, only then did I realize that we must first have the right to have a right. That right is acquired with weapons.

You’ve probably heard of the “iron ladle”. The civilized nations of Europe, which seemed to us to be law-abiding and fair, gave us nothing but pity. Russia, which seemed to be a great friend of our people, other than sympathy, sees and hears nothing but its own interests.

The Armenian people seemed to be like a hungry child outdoors in the frosty winter, before whom everyone closed the doors of their homes. The Armenian people were without a care-taker, but the most important thing I understood was that we should not look for care-takers from abroad. There, in the future, I am sure, you will not look for foreign care-takers and you will not pin your hopes on Europeans, Russians or other states.

If you have an independent state, your only care-taker must be your own government. I hope the government will not leave you abandoned, but if it abandons you, what is the point of your independence?

The greatest misfortune of the people is that its own leaders treat them in the same way as the foreigners. We lived under the yoke of foreigners for centuries. They treated us cruelly and unfairly. We sought justice and did not find it. If you have an independent state, I hope there is justice there.

The Turks treated Armenians very unfairly. Can an Armenian treat another Armenian the same way? Here, in the past, one of the greatest tragedies of our people is its ignorance. How can an uneducated people find their place in this cunning world? The Turkish authorities will not allow this, as they see their danger in the education of our people. The greater the education of the people, the more restrained the government will be.

I devoted my whole life to spreading enlightenment in the Armenian provinces, but alone I could not do much. If you have a state, educate our people, spread enlightenment in the provinces. The uneducated people choose uneducated masters who oppress them and one day the uneducated people are obliged to choose foreign masters.

At a time when ordinary people are living in the provinces under the heavy burden of the situation, wealthy Armenians in Istanbul are living in sheer luxury. They are indifferent to the situation of the people, as if they were foreigners. The Turkish authorities even ally with them to keep the people obedient. I hope that the rich in your country are not so arrogant and are not allied with the bad government against the people.

In 1876, when the Ottoman Constitution was adopted, the hope for salvation awoke in us. We thought that the five-hundred-year-old, infertile and old mother Turkey brought forth to the old world a new, young constitution, but our hopes were dashed and time showed that they were beautiful letters written on paper, while the people continued to suffer. There, in the future, perhaps you also have a beautiful constitution and laws. I want your laws not to remain on paper like the Ottoman constitution.

And finally, I want to give you a message. Have ambassadors who properly voice the demands of the people to the world, and the clergy will not engage in diplomacy, leaving aside their flock. Have leaders who love the people, because the Armenian people have suffered a lot from the hatred of foreign leaders. And never seek foreign care-takers. And if you have in the future an independent state, do everything you can to never, ever lose your independence again.


These wise words are an excellent advice to every leader of Armenia and to the Armenian people worldwide. They are as appropriate today as they were back then when Armenia was not an independent country. Not a single person should aspire to lead Armenia without heeding Khrimian Hyrig’s prudent counsel. Armenia has numerous problems. But the two most important problems are:

  1. Armenia needs to develop a powerful military to fend for itself without relying on other countries. A weak nation is always subject to the dictates of more powerful ones, as we witnessed in the recent Artsakh War. If you are weak, you have no rights and no one cares to come to your rescue. Unless Armenia becomes more powerful militarily and economically, it will always be subjugated, particularly since we are surrounded by vicious enemies who constantly plot our destruction.
  2. The next important requirement for our nation is to have a competent leader, something we rarely had throughout our long history, and we do not have it today!

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